Sunday, August 01, 2010

Guest blogger, Alanna Knight, talks about her career

Peter May here. I am proud to present ALANNA KNIGHT as our guest blogger this Sunday. Alanna was declared one of the 100 Masters of Crime by The Times of London, and is among the most popular authors in UK libraries. She is one of Britain’s most prolific and successful crime writers with three historical crime series to her name: the Victorian detective Inspector Jeremy Faro; lady investigator Rose McQuinn; and time-traveller Tam Eildor. Alanna has published 60 books, including romantic thrillers and historical novels. She is an authority on Robert Louis Stevenson, and her non-fiction includes true crime, how to write guides, and biographies. Honorary President of the Edinburgh Writers' Club, and founder member of the Scottish Association of Writers, she is also a veteran of the Society of Authors and the UK Crime Writers' Association. She has two new books due out in the next few months - “Quest for a Killer”, the 6th Rose McQuinn story, and “The Seal King Murders”, the 15th Inspector Faro novel.

I always wanted to be a writer. Even as a small girl I was rarely seen without a book in hand (changed occasionally for a paintbrush!). Adulthood and early marriage gave rise to short stories and serials for women's magazines in hours stolen from two young sons and a very understanding husband. In 1968, I received an award for my first unpublished novel, “Legend of the Loch”, set in Scotland where I have lived most of my life. There were, of course, other unpublishable novels from my teen years, which were really my nursery slopes - since writers' aids like groups and courses were rare in those days.

The publication of this first romantic suspense - now called “Women-in-jeopardy” - was followed by five more. Then thanks to an English project that one of my sons brought home, Robert Louis Stevenson came into my life. He became my inspiration. After fifteen years of writing about him - biographies, plays, a novel, “The Passionate Kindness” - I was in Edinburgh compiling an RLS Treasury when my career as an historical novelist (with Macmillan and St Martin's Press) changed course.

I had always thought that Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde was one of the greatest crime novels ever written. And by pure chance one day, a strange man - deerstalker hat and Inverness cape - walking past me in the street provided the unexpected inspiration for my Inspector Jeremy Faro, an Edinburgh-based Victorian detective working in the 1870s. The Edinburgh setting was perfect for me, since it was a town I knew intimately, having walked the paths and touched the stones with RLS.

Eleven books later I wrote “The Inspector's Daughter”, featuring Faro’s daughter Rose who had already appeared in the Faro series - having married his sergeant and gone to live in Arizona (which I know well). When he disappeared in 1895, Rose returned home to solve a murder involving a former school friend, and went on to become a Lady Investigator. The sixth book in the Rose McQuinn series, “Quest for a Killer” was published this year.

Faro also has a new series. Retired in his last 3 books, I decided, thanks to a notorious not-proven poison trial in 1860, to do a prequel, “Constable Faro's first case: Murder in Paradise”. The second in this new series, “The Seal King's Murder” (set in Orkney), is schedule for publication in Jan 2011.

My advice for the aspiring crime writer is, wherever possible, to consider writing a series. Series are what publishers look for these days, and so do readers who get hooked on the main protagonist. The writer, too, gets to know intimately - and hopefully to love - that main character.

Writing historical crime demands meticulous research. I found that especially so in my third series featuring a time -travelling detective, Tam Eildor, who leaves year 2250 to solve murders from a murky past when police and detectives were still unknown.

I find a constant joy in meeting my readers and establishing a rapport with them at talks. Over the years many have become friends, and we talk about Jeremy Faro and Rose McQuinn as if they just live around the corner. My books are mostly set in Scotland, where I live, and those beyond give an excuse for careful research in new areas. An important rule for me has always been, “Write about what you know”. And to that I would add, “Write about where you know”.

You can find out more about Alanna’s incredible output on her website:


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